WILMNGTON, Del. — A Chinese national was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release Wednesday for conspiring to violate the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations; attempting to violate the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations; and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The sentencing follows an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) and the U.S. Department of Commerce-Bureau of Industry and Security’s Office of Export Enforcement Washington Field Office.
On June 16, 2015, Kan Chen, 26, of Ningbo, China, in Zhejiang Province, was arrested by HSI special agents on the Northern Mariana Island of Saipan following an eight-month investigation into his illegal conduct and has remained in custody. He pleaded guilty to the offenses on March 2, 2016.
“The United States will simply never know the true harm of Chen’s conduct because the end users of the rifle scopes and other technology are unknown,” said U.S. Attorney John P Oberly. “No matter their nationality, those individuals who seek to profit by illegally exporting sensitive U.S. military technology will be prosecuted. It is important that we take all necessary steps to prevent our military technology and equipment from being exported and possibly used against our service members and our allies overseas.”
“Today's sentencing is the result of exceptional investigative work by the Office of Export Enforcement and our law enforcement partners to disrupt an illicit network and prevent sensitive technology from falling into the wrong hands,” said Special Agent in Charge Nasir Khan.
According to court documents, from July 2013 through his arrest in June 2015, Chen caused or attempted to cause the illegal export of over 180 export-controlled items, valued at over $275,000, from the United States to China. Over 40 of those items – purchased for more than $190,000 – were sophisticated night vision and thermal imaging scopes, which are designated by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations as U.S. Munitions List defense articles and can be mounted on automatic and semi-automatic rifles and used for military purposes at night.
Given the sensitivity surrounding these military-grade items, Chen devised a scheme to smuggle these items through Delaware and outside the United States. He purchased the devices via the internet and telephone and had them mailed to several reshipping services in New Castle, Delaware, which provide an American shipping address for customers located in China, accept packages for their customers and then re-ship them to China. In order to further conceal his illegal activity, Chen arranged for the re-shippers to send the devices to several intermediary individuals, who in turn forwarded the devices to Chen in China. Chen then sent the devices to his customers. During the course of this conduct, Chen made numerous false statements in order to knowingly and willfully evade the export control laws of the United States, including by undervaluing the shipments, unlawfully avoiding the filing of export information with the U.S. government, indicating that he was a natural-born U.S. citizen and providing the address of the reshipping service as his own.
During the sentencing hearing, the government noted the lethality of these items when combined with weapons designed for use on a battlefield. For example, the ATN ThOR 640-5x, 640x480-Inch Thermal Weapon Scope, 100 mm, which Chen purchased for $8,428.39, is described by the manufacturer as “an ideal product for force protection, border patrol officers, police SWAT and special operations forces providing them the tools they need to be successful in all field operations both day and night. Uncooled thermal imaging cuts through dust, smoke, fog, haze, and other battlefield obscurants.” These rifle scopes, therefore, are weapons of war, and Chen’s smuggling and subsequent sale of these military-grade items outside of the United States directly undermines our nation’s national security interests.
As the government further noted, Chen’s conduct was particularly harmful because he sold this military technology indiscriminately. Thus, it could have ended up in any number of nefarious hands – including agents of foreign governments, bad actors and brokers. Once these rifle scopes were exported to China and distributed by Chen to his customers, the military technology contained inside these items could have been reversed engineered or used anywhere in the world for a variety of purposes by oppressive regimes, terrorists, or others to threaten the United States or its allies’ military advantage or to commit human rights abuses.